I've had 37 of them so am beginning to count myself as a bit of an expert. I'm not a purist, like my friend Bri who won't even think about getting an egg-nogg latte until he's opened day one on his advent calendar. But I do love it. All of it. And once Bonfire Night is out of the way, I get the decorations down and Christmas preparations begin.

But I'm not really into having a 'normal' Christmas, if there is such a thing. To be honest, I can think of nothing worse than staying in all day on Christmas, eating, sleeping and watching James Bond re-runs. My top three Christmas Days to date have involved playing pool with a homeless teenager and her pit-bull (he wasn't very good at it), ripping open presents on Christmas Eve (shock horror!) with international students and eating mince pies with deportees at Heathrow detention centre.

But all that's about to change.

This year for my 38th Christmas, I'm about to stay home for the first time in years. This year it's up to me to create the magic for my own daughter who came into our lives last January.

The question is: what do I do about the big bearded guy? Not my husband, the other one. I love Father Christmas. He's the stuff that children's dreams are made of, but in my home he was quickly overshadowed by the small vulnerable guy. The one in the corner of a friend's lean-to, sleeping among the animals, son of an unmarried teenager. Not very Christmassy, I hear you cry!

But that's just it. Growing up in a family that experienced its fair share of financial struggles, a stranger that pops into your life once a year with a gift that satisfies until Boxing Day afternoon can never compare to a newborn God-child, whose gift of love keeps on giving. Father Christmas has his place, but on his own, he just doesn't scream 'it's Chriiiiiiistmaaaaaaas!'

Don't get me wrong. I'm still going to take my daughter to see the lights and push her around a grotto. I'm going to help her put out a carrot for Rudolf and sherry for Santa. I'm going to give her the biggest stocking I can hang on her cot without it becoming a health and safety hazard! But I'm not going to wrap her up in the idea that the best Christmas can offer her is a Peppa Pig scooter. As she grows, I'm not going to deny her the chance to find her place in the greatest Christmas story ever told.

I dream about my daughter waking up on this and future Christmas mornings (hopefully after 6am!), and knowing, even before she opens her eyes, that the best gift is already hers in abundance.


The endless love of the Saviour whose cries that first Christmas woke the world up to the reality that if God would become a baby, born into poor circumstances and destined for suffering, what else would he do for us?

Christmas does start with Christ, and at the moment my little girl is still unaware of any of this. Right now, she's into Peppa Pig and I'm saving up to get her that scooter. But my prayer for my 38th Christmas Day, my daughter's third and your [fill in the gaps] is that we all discover a story that has the power to change everything forever.

Rachel Gardner is the director of Romance Academy and president-elect of the Girls' Brigade.